I find rivers intriguing. As a child, I journeyed through India aboard Bharatiya Rail and waited for the rumbling of iron rails of a rail bridge, every time train crossed over a river. Few moments captured from the window looked like eternity and remain etched in memory forever. The wide breadth of the river, occasional boats, trees and greenery around it, water circling in pools, people visible on the ghats and the stray thought, what if the train falls in the river, crossed the mind. Rivers are truly the origin of civilisations, for all great civilisations in history flourished around rivers. I still love the rumbling train crossing over a bridge, though the air conditioned compartment windows are sealed and one can’t feel the air and rumbling window rails.
One of the rivers I often met during my travel towards Madhya Pradesh, was river Narmada. One of the seven holy rivers in India, River Narmada holds great religious importance in the state. It is revered as sacred mother and many festivals are celebrated around the holy river. There are many a legends and stories about the river, which locals will tell you with great conviction. It is said, the river’s water lends calm, peace and prosperity to its inhabitants.
Narmada originates from Amarkantak, a pilgrimage town situated in a unique natural heritage area, at the meeting point of Vindhya and Satpura ranges. Narmada is one of the few rivers that flow from East to West, Narmada flows from here towards Arabian Sea. Narmada Udgam Temple is a place of worship with many temples inside a complex. On the opposite side are the ancient rock carved temples from the period of Kaluchari Dynasty. It’s a beautiful location for photography.
River falls over Kapildhara Fall and meanders through Mandla to Jabalpur, one of the large cities in Madhya Pradesh. Narmada passes through Marble Rocks, a beautiful gorge carved by the river in beautiful white, soft stone. The white rocks look stunning against the backdrop of water and sunlight reflecting off its milky surface. A boat ride on moon lit night through these rocks is a mellow and romantic experience. Earlier the gorge used to be so narrow that monkeys could easily jump from one side to the other, hence it’s also called ‘Bandar Kudi’ locally.
I visited Marble Rocks many years back and took the boat ride during day time. The boats are the traditional wooden boats. As the boat moves towards the gorge, you can feel the depth rising and the slight movement due to river current and ripples give you chills. There was no provision of any life jacket on the boats and it seemed bit scary. Nevertheless, the place is beautiful and a treat to your senses. Many Bollywood movies have been shot here. Recent ones, Hritik Roshan’s Mohenjodaro was shot here, so was Shahrukh Khan’s Ashoka.
Narmada finds its way through the Marble Rocks and reaches Bhedaghat where it narrows and plunges 30 meters to form the spectacular Dhuandhar Falls, creating a smoke like misty effect. The name is derived from Dhuan meaning smoke and Dhar i.e. flow or cascade. The sound of water falling from such a height can be heard from a long distance. The sight of water cascading over rocks in the form of a curve looks even more magical on moon lit nights. Boat rides on Sharad Poornima night is particularly popular and considered auspicious.
There are other ghats and temples in the city. Tilwara Ghat is a well maintained ghat on the banks of Narmada. This is the site where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were immersed in water, there is a Gandhi Smarak built in his memory at the ghat.
An hour’s drive from the city is Bargi Dam over Narmada, with huge reservoir and azure calm water is a wonderful place for a day’s picnic. It provides water to the entire Jabalpur city. The site is maintained by MP Tourism and steamer boat rides can be enjoyed under clear blue skies and fresh air.
Narmada moves further to many a sacred pilgrimage sites in Madhya Pradesh. Someday I will follow the river, further.
‘Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.’ – John Lubbock